Why So Many Pale Ales on the Leaderboards

Eno Sarris, July 01, 2013

Sometimes I prefer it if a question doesn't have a question mark on the end. There really are two types of questions. One ends with an uptick in tone, and you might call that your more cut-and-dry question. "Where can I find the nearest subway station?" The other ends with more of a lower-toned finality, and you might call it more of a challenge or a sentence. "Oh and what is happening now with my fantasy team."

And so we get to the titular question. For a website that style-indexed its ratings because it was concerned with the 'danker is better' trend, there are a ton of pale ales in the top 100. 44 if you count American Pale Ales, Imperial Pale Ales, and Black Pale Ales as one large type. (46 if you count Pale Wheat Ales.) Why so many pale ales.

The question is worth checking out. Obviously the first thing to do is look at the makeup of our sample. Nearly three million check-ins, and here are the top 20 styles by overall check-ins:

Percentage Beer Style
11.3% American IPA
7.8% Imperial / Double IPA
5.1% American Pale Ale
3.6% American Imperial / Double Stout
2.7% American Amber / Red Ale
2.6% American Adjunct Lager
2.4% American Light Lager
2.2% American Porter
2.1% Saison / Farmhouse Ale
1.8% Witbier
1.7% American Brown Ale
1.6% Belgian Strong Dark Ale
1.5% Russian Imperial Stout
1.5% Rye Beer
1.4% Fruit Beer
1.4% Pale Lager
1.3% Milk / Sweet Stout
1.2% Belgian Tripel
1.2% American Barleywine
1.2% Black IPA / Cascadian Dark Ale

The first three most popular styles are variants of pale ales. Maybe it will come into stronger focus if we combine the styles.

The various pale ale styles make up over 30% of our sample.

Still, we aren't up to the 40+% of the top 100 that are pale ales. Perhaps it could be our style-indexing is not robust enough? Here are the top ten beer styles by the replacement level we are currently using:

Style Replacement level
Russian Imperial Stout 3.9
Gueuze 3.88
American Imperial / Double Stout 3.86666666667
American Wild Ale 3.85051546392
Imperial / Double Black IPA 3.83737294762
Belgian Quad 3.83490566038
Imperial Oatmeal Stout 3.83098591549
Flanders Oud Bruin 3.77240566038
Flanders Red Ale 3.77011494253
Imperial / Double IPA 3.74137931034

Supposedly by comparing IPAs to IPAs, and using these replacement levels, we should be dampening the popularity of pale ales to an extent. Perhaps the regional replacement level calculations will help this phenomenon -- but we can see that the Pacific Region Replacement Level Pale Ale (Kona Fire Rock) is rated 2.738, and compared to the current replacement national replacement level for the style (3.352), we aren't going to help keep IPAs off the top 100 this way. Unless the other style's RLs go down further, at least.

No matter what we do, popularity comes into the calculation one more time: when we convert from wOBAR to BAR, we use popularity numbers to adjust the raw ratings. The idea is that the rating for a beer with 500 ratings is more believable than a beer with five ratings. But by bringing that popularity back in, we're boosting pale ales on the leaderboard.

So it's time to think harder, even as we try to develop the regional replacement level. Do we have to try harder to counteract current trends to get a 'more true' rating? Or should popularity still have its say? What's the right balance.

As you think on it, here are the top 50 beers sorted by wOBAR. These numbers are unadjusted by number of check-ins, so you have some fifty-check-in small beers next to some behemoths.

You'll notice that only 15 pale ales grace this list.

Beer Name Brewery Beer Style wOBAR WAR
Zagorka Special Zagorka Brewery / Pivovaren Zavod Zagorka Pale Lager 1.64 6.66
Light Rock Ale RJ Rockers Brewing Company Kölsch 1.63 9.39
Village Tavern Old Post Road Porter CB's Brewing Company Porter 1.34 8.81
Zombie Dust Three Floyds Brewing Company American Pale Ale 1.34 14.45
Tennent's Original Export Lager Tennent Caledonian Brewery Euro Lager 1.23 5.63
Peters Kölsch Haus Kölscher Brautradition Kölsch 1.19 5.96
Hoponius Union Jack's Abby Brewing Pale Lager 1.18 7.48
Fuzzy Baby Ducks New England Brewing Co. American IPA 1.17 9.52
Nelson Alpine Beer Company (CA) American IPA 1.15 10.81
Zephyr Doctor's Orders Brewing Witbier 1.14 5.97
Carton Canyon Carton Brewing Company American Adjunct Lager 1.13 4.56
Edward Hill Farmstead Brewery American Pale Ale 1.12 8.72
Maple Bacon Coffee Porter Funky Buddha American Porter 1.11 6.83
Lagerbier Hell Augustiner-Bräu Wagner Helles Lager 1.10 6.55
Heady Topper The Alchemist Pub & Brewery Imperial / Double IPA 1.09 15.15
Pirinsko Svetlo Pivo Shumensko Pivo (Carlsberg Group) Pilsner 1.09 5.88
Yakima Scarlet Liberty Brewing American Amber / Red Ale 1.09 5.54
Extra Viva Cervejaria Coruja American Adjunct Lager 1.05 4.33
Fou' Foune Brasserie Cantillon Lambic 1.04 9.27
Alpha Dogg Liberty Brewing Imperial / Double Pilsner 1.03 6.42
Pliny the Younger Russian River Brewing Company Imperial / Double IPA 1.02 14.23
Blushing Monk Founders Brewing Company Fruit Beer 1.02 5.46
Lunch Maine Beer Company American IPA 1.02 7.86
King Henry Goose Island Beer Co. American Barleywine 1.02 8.75
Simon Pils Brasserie Simon Pilsner 1.02 4.48
Citra Rye Pale Ale Joseph James Brewing Company American Pale Ale 1.00 6.67
Wisconsin Belgian Red New Glarus Brewing Company Fruit Beer 0.98 6.91
Gunnamatta Yeastie Boys Herbed/Spiced Beer 0.98 5.93
Premium Lager Hell's Gate Brewing Co. American Adjunct Lager 0.97 3.91
Boat Beer Carton Brewing Company American Pale Ale 0.97 6.95
Stag Series #6 Fresh Hop Citra Pils August Schell Brewing Company Pilsner 0.96 4.81
Pumking Southern Tier Brewing Company Pumpkin/Yam Beer 0.96 8.29
Pliny the Elder Russian River Brewing Company Imperial / Double IPA 0.96 14.08
Barrel Aged Abraxas Perennial Artisan Ales American Imperial / Double Stout 0.96 9.44
Fat Tug IPA Driftwood Brewery American IPA 0.95 8.19
Tetley's Bitter Tetley's (Carlsberg Group) English Bitter 0.95 4.81
Raspberry Tart New Glarus Brewing Company Fruit Beer 0.95 7.12
Bulletproof Tiger Burley Oak Brewing Company American IPA 0.95 5.62
Bourbon Barrel Temptress Lakewood Brewing Company Milk / Sweet Stout 0.95 7.30
Horns Up HopDog BeerWorks American IPA 0.95 5.40
Abner Hill Farmstead Brewery Imperial / Double IPA 0.94 8.83
Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout Goose Island Beer Co. American Imperial / Double Stout 0.94 8.20
Gumballhead Three Floyds Brewing Company American Pale Wheat Ale 0.94 8.80
Pumpkin Ale The Saint Louis Brewery (Schlafly Beer) Pumpkin/Yam Beer 0.93 6.31
Seasonal Reserve Mckenzie's Hard Cider Cider 0.93 5.07
Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout Goose Island Beer Co. American Imperial / Double Stout 0.92 7.39
pseudo Sue Toppling Goliath Brewing American Pale Ale 0.92 5.72
Citra Kern River Brewing Company Imperial / Double IPA 0.91 9.92
Susan Hill Farmstead Brewery American IPA 0.91 6.90